Top 10 plants you can't kill

These robust plants will fill your garden with flowers and fragrance and ask for little in return. Author Jamie Butterworth nominates 10 of his favourites

Hydrangea paniculata  ‘Limelight’

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’

 1 Hydrangea paniculata ‘Limelight’ The bold and impressive flower heads of this hydrangea can’t fail to add theatre to the garden. Despite looking flamboyant and blowsy, they’re actually very easy to grow, performing reliably year after year. ‘Limelight’ produces large flowers like giant ice cream cones that last well throughout winter. Grow them in dappled shade, which helps keep the plant cool in summer. The clue to growing really good hydrangeas is in the name: hydor is Greek for water, so make sure they don’t dry out. Prune back to the old wood in late winter, cutting back the previous year’s growth to two buds from the main framework. H2.5m (8ft) S1.5m (5ft)

Pittosporum ‘Tom Thumb’ (black and green shrub towards left)

Pittosporum ‘Tom Thumb’ (black and green shrub towards left)

2 Pittosporum ‘Tom Thumb’ Pittosporum is a hard-working, easy-to-grow shrub that’s evergreen so ideal for year-round structure. It’s a superb alternative to box, and can be tightly clipped to make a topiary focal point or grown as low hedging. Its foliage is small, dense and waxy – new leaves emerge fresh green in spring and fade to a deep purple. These slow-growing shrubs love a sunny, sheltered, free-draining site, and their slow-growing nature means plants require next to no maintenance, just very infrequent clipping to keep the foliage dense and compact. Spread a thick layer of mulch around the base of the shrub during winter to help protect its roots from frost. H and S1m (3ft 3in)

Clematis armandii

Clematis armandii

3 Clematis armandii A reliable cottage-garden favourite, it’s possible to have a clematis in flower every month of the year. The delicate-looking flowers of evergreen climber C. armandii are breathtakingly beautiful – belying the fact it’s incredibly resilient and easy-to-grow, ideal for covering an ugly wall or adding height to a border. It can tolerate some shade, but for best results plant it in a sunny spot against a south-facing wall. Varieties such as ‘Apple Blossom’ don’t need regular pruning, but if it does start to become too big, prune it back just after flowering. Keep it well watered, mulch and feed during spring with a balanced, slow-release fertiliser. H8m (26ft) S3m (10ft)

Verbena bonariensis

Verbena bonariensis

4 Verbena bonariensis Verbena is loved as much by bees and butterflies as it is by us gardeners. Despite its gracious and airy appearance, it’s incredibly tough and will withstand the hottest of summers. Flowering from the end of June to the first frosts, even when it’s finished flowering, the silvery seedheads provide architecture throughout winter. Verbena adores a south-facing sunny spot with good drainage; gravel gardens offer the perfect planting location. Water them to get established and then again when the weather gets very hot (July to August), then just leave them to it. Cut it back in late winter. H2m (6 1/2ft) S45cm (18in)

Alchemilla mollis , frothy acid-green flowers in foreground

Alchemilla mollis, frothy acid-green flowers in foreground

5 Alchemilla mollis Lady’s mantle is quiet, understated and extremely hard-working. It comes into its own just after rain, as the droplets of water bead on the foliage and create the most mesmerising effect. Its foamy mist of butter-yellow flowers splays from the finely serrated foliage, this is one of the best foliage plants you can use in a garden. Make sure it doesn’t dry out during summer – although it loves full sun, it also thrives on moisture. That aside, it’s a reliable plant that’s relatively maintenance-free. If it starts to spread, dig up some clumps and share them with a friend. H50cm (19in) S75cm (29in)

Euphorbia characias wulfenii

Euphorbia characias wulfenii

6 Euphorbia characias wulfenii The spurge family is a huge group of plants and although most are succulents, the herbaceous varieties offer an exciting array of textural foliage in vibrant blue, green and gold. E characias wulfenii is one of the most popular: drought-resistant and practically pest and disease free. Its whorls of attractive, blue-green evergreen foliage last all year and in spring are joined by huge clusters of acid-lime flower bracts on stiff stems. They’re unfussy and tend to thrive in any soil as long as it’s well drained. Grow in full sun or part shade and take care not to get the milky white sap on your skin as it’s a toxic irritant. H1.5m (5ft) S1.2m (4ft)

Salvia ‘Caradonna’

Salvia ‘Caradonna’

7 Salvia ‘Caradonna’ One of the most spectacular salvias, ‘Caradonna’ features majestic purple flower spires that rise over a compact mound of foliage. Flowering from May through to the first frosts, salvias keep on giving long into winter when their skeletal flower stems catch morning dew and hard frosts. They’ll tolerate dappled shade, but the sunnier it is, the better they’ll grow. The key to success is to ensure it doesn’t sit too wet throughout winter. Though it’s hardy, it doesn’t like the damp so avoid growing it in clay soil, if possible. In February cut the plant back to ground level, mulch with rotted organic matter and watch it spring back to life. H50cm (19in) S30cm (12in)

Cosmos bipinnatus

Cosmos bipinnatus

8 Cosmos bipinnatus Cosmos is the princess of the cut-flower garden and queen of the container. It’s a fantastic annual that will bloom relentlessly from June through to the first frosts. Rapidly growing into large clumps, they can quickly fill gaps in borders while maintaining their elegance and chic composure, taking the form of a cloud of flowers. No summer garden is complete without them! Sow seeds indoors from March to April and plant outdoors once the last frost has passed. Keep deadheading and feeding throughout summer for continuous blooms. As cosmos can grow quite large, it can often be good to stake the plants with old birch stems to prevent them collapsing in heavy rain. H1m (3ft 3in) S30cm (12in)

Lonicera periclymenum

Lonicera periclymenum

9 Lonicera periclymenum ‘Graham Thomas’ Honeysuckles are one of the most iconic, sweet-smelling climbers and are a brilliant addition to any garden. They’re the perfect solution to most vertical dilemmas; they grow fast and produce impressive displays with minimum effort. The colourful tubular flowers are a brilliant attraction with an incredible aroma. They’re reasonably unfussy about soil type, location or aspect, although they won’t grow well in deep shade. Manage their size by cutting back hard after flowering; they have a tendency to become bare at the bottom. With an extra mulch and some controlled-release fertiliser in spring, they will keep rewarding you. H8m (26ft) S1m (3ft 3in)

Erigeron karvinskianus

Erigeron karvinskianus

10 Erigeron karvinskianus Every garden, no matter how big or small, has cracks and crevices where it can be difficult to grow anything. These are the perfect places for small alpine plants and the dazzling daisies of Mexican fleabane. This amazing perennial produces hundreds of tiny, daisy-like flowers from May to October, drifting and dancing through walling and paving, and creating a delicate froth of flowers along path edges. Grow them in full sun with good drainage; these plants will thrive in a tricky hot spot or suntrap, but won’t do as well in shade. H30cm (12in) S1m (3ft 3in)

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• This is an edited extract from 50 Plants you can’t kill by Jamie Butterworth (£16.99, RHS Books)